Pinecones aren’t always helpful in identification, especially when they are missing or misplaced.
I put off a post about the southwestern white pine, Pinus strobiformis, until after Christmas because I figured it wouldn’t be of much use as a holiday tree. To my surprise, a site from Kansas identified it as such. The Covered Bridge Ranch in Montrose, Colorado also included it on a chart of its trees for sale for holiday decoration.
This variety of conifer has five needles growing per fascicle and each leaf may grow up to four inches in length.
Pinus strobiformis is found in the southwestern states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and the southwest/south central counties of Colorado (Ackerman, Jennifer, Flora of Colorado) where it may grow up to 9000 feet in elevation. Like many other trees it has other common names such as pino enamo, border pine, and Mexican pine (North American Trees, Preston and Braham, 5th edition.)
According to the US Forest Service, although used for window frames and some cabinetry, this species is not valuable as lumber due to its tendency toward crooked growth. It is sometimes grown for its ornamental value, and some dwarf versions are available.
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center lists this species as having large seeds, which have served as food for both wildlife and southwestern tribes. At least one paper reports the seeds are a food for black bears. Practical Plants likens the seeds to piñon nuts with a harder shell. This website also mentions a vanilla flavoring agent from the resin. Like most other pines, the resins and other parts of the plant have been used as disinfectants and medicinally for many conditions.
The Gymnosperm Database lists the largest tree in the US as being in the Lincoln National Forest of New Mexico. This tree has a circumference of nearly five feet, is a bit over 111 feet tall, and has a crown spread of 62 feet. The oldest tree is also in New Mexico but is part of the San Mateo mountains. In 2006 it was said to be 599 years old. The tallest specimen, though, is in the San Juan Forest of Colorado. In 2014 it was measured as being nearly 128 feet tall.
To find C173 Southwestern White Pine (Pinus strobiformis) in Fort Collins City Park, start near the corner of Mulberry Street and Sheldon Drive. This specimen is on the east side of the road, behind a larger conifer, more or less across from the outhouse on the W side of the road.
Note on pinecones. It seems like conifer cones would be a useful way to help identify what kind of tree you are looking at. I found this specimen under the pine tree, but does it actually belong to this tree? It was the only cone. Between this tree and the conifer nearer to the road were strewn a number of other, slightly different cones. Descriptions of the white pine cone vary. How and where the cone grows on the tree can be of use in identification. Alas, no cones were visible on this tree at the time of viewing, eliminating the direction of growth as a helpful indicator.
A Scotch Pine has never been used as the Capitol Christmas tree.
Every list of tree species used as Christmas trees seems to include the Scotch or Scots Pine, latin name Pinus sylvestris. At least one list considers it the most popular tree in the States, while others list it as the most popular pine but 8th most popular conifer overall. The National Christmas Tree Association does say it is the most popular tree for the holiday season.
The Scots pine is the most widely distributed pine in the world, with its range stretching across Europe and into Asia, or as many sources say, from the Arctic to the Mediterranean. Although not often used as lumber in the US, that is a common use throughout Europe.
According to the gymnosperm website, the use of this variety of pine as a Christmas tree is mostly a custom in the United States. This same site says the Scots pine is the second most common conifer world-wide after the common juniper. To sell as a Christmas tree, the Scots pine is grown on tree farms for six to eight years before reaching a height of 7-8 feet. The trees normally last for three or four weeks and even when not watered, they usually don’t drop their needles. More than one source says this conifer accounts for 10% of Christmas tree sales. Although these are popular in the home, a Scotch pine has never been used as the Capitol Christmas tree.
While parts of the tree are edible and can be ground down to a meal to add to oatmeal or flour, it is considered a food of last resort. Like many other plants, it has a long list of conditions for which it is reputed to have a medicinal effect, including respiratory problems. Not surprisingly, the leaves have been used as an antiseptic.
The Scots pine is the national tree of Scotland. Although many will tell of the days when Scotland was covered by the Caledonian forest, made up of Pinus sylvestris, this version is disputed by the Scottish historian Christopher Smout. Still, as the only native pine in the UK, it has many uses, including telephone poles, source of turpentine, and fencing. A large stand of the pines was used for WWII commando training as well as in a Harry Potter movie. This group of Scots Pine has recently been saved by the Scottish Land Trust and local residents, hoping to use it as a tourist site. There are about 77 remnants of the Caledonian forest, with about nine of them easily accessible.
To find (E55) Scotch Pine (Pinus sylvestris)on the Fort Collins City Park self-guided tour, head to the intersection of Bryan and Oak Streets. The large conifer is on the east side of the ditch, directly behind the speed limit sign. See the photo above.
What type of tree will you select for your Christmas tree this year?
What kind of tree do you think of when someone says natural Christmas tree? I suspect many of us think of a pine tree. Oddly, the most common trees used aren’t pines but firs and spruces. Pines do make the list of common or best trees, but only a few species are routinely used. In England the lodgepole pine is mentioned as a choice! In the U.S. two or three species are mentioned, probably dependent on what part of the country you live in.
Eastern White Pines (Pinus storbus)are native to North America and found from Minnesota south to Arkansas and east. This is the state tree of both Maine and Michigan. Considered the tallest native pine in the east, modern day trees are dwarfed by other trees in the genus, such as the Ponderosa and sugar pine. The single largest specimen, which can be found in Maine, is 132′ tall and has a circumference of 229 inches. The normal life expectancy of this species is about 200 years, although a fossilized log found in Ontario included 407 rings.
Most of the virgin forests have been logged, although the species is planted for reforestation. White pine timber has been used to build boats, furniture, and buildings. In the 1700s the trees were harvested to provide masts for the Royal Navy, thus leading to the Pine Tree Riot of 1772.
Beyond their use as building materials and firewood, the white pine provided resin in the building of canoes. The sap was used as an antiseptic and chemicals found in white pine may still be used as ingredients in anti congestion medications. The Healing Power of Plantswebsite also includes the information that a component chemical in white pines may be useful in combating LDL cholesterol. At least one site mentions the seeds were used to cure meats, and the cambium could be ground into a flour. This was used by both early settlers and Native American populations. Early blackboards were often made of white pine painted black.
The Eastern white pine is usually included on lists of trees sold for Christmas. One possible advantage to its use is it tends to hold onto its needles longer than other conifers.
They also have little aroma, which makes them a good choice for those who have sensitivities. But they are very full, bushy trees and their branches cannot accommodate heavy ornaments.
A white pine has only been used as the Capitol Christmas tree, also known as the People’s tree, twice in the fifty-four year history of the program. In both 1968 and 69 PARTs of an Eastern white pine were used. Although still listed as being a species used as a Christmas tree, even in Michigan it seems to have fallen out of favor. A recent study rated it #7 in acreage planted.
To find this (164) specimen, head to the southwest corner of City Park and Mulberry. It should be easy to find between the two handicapped parking signs seen in the photo above.
Trees in genus Cedras are often called the true cedars.
So far I’ve covered over forty trees and I’m up to the cedars. I’d counted five tagged on the self-guided tour, but it turns out that I didn’t look closely enough as one of those trees with the common name of CEDAR is actually a juniper. The other four belong to three different genus/families even though they all share the common name of cedar. Misnaming trees from the Latin to the vernacular makes tree identification difficult! Another problem is the multiple spellings for the same tree. Red Cedar or Redcedar?
Six of the types of conifers discussed so far have been in order Pinales, family Pinaceae. Arborvitae, the Giant Sequoia, and Junipers belong to order Cupressales, family Cupressaceae. All of these belong to the subclass Pinidae, commonly referred to as Conifers. (From The Gymnosperm Database.)
The Eastern Red Cedar(Juniperus virginiana) was used in ways similar to the other junipers discussed previously. According to the USDA map, this is one of the most widely distributed native conifers on the continent as the usual eastern block extends to Colorado and also includes Oregon. Interestingly, Eastern red cedar is not included in Flora of Colorado (Ackerfield, 2015). Red cedar is said to have very durable wood and was used to make lances, bows, and multipurpose mats.
The wood has been valued for its rot-resistant properties. Today the wood is often used for its aromatic properties. It is used to line closest and cedar chests and was once used to make pencils. Occasionally in the south it is still used as a Christmas tree.
The US champion Eastern Redcedar is a tree in Georgia that has overall points of 310, but is only 57 feet tall. The champion Eastern Redcedar in Colorado is in Denver but doesn’t even score half the points of the national champion. It is, though, taller at a height of sixty feet. Sources differ on the age of these trees, with some saying 900 years and others 500.
To find A77Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), drive to the pottery studio, which is on the corner of Oak and S. Bryan. You can see the trees in front of the building.
The Himalayan Cedar(Cedras deodara Karl Fuchs) belongs to the genus Cedras. The trees in this group are often referred to as true cedars.Cedras Deodara is native to India and Pakistan. The USDA map indicates they have only been introduced in three southern states.*
Even though this is a true cedar, compared to the other trees listed as cedars, it is somewhat deceiving as the leaves (needles) might look to the casual observer as belonging to a spruce or pine.
The bark looks different from that of the Eastern Red Cedar.
According to the Arbor Day Foundation, the name of the tree in Sanskrit means “Timber of the Gods,” and it was introduced into Europe and America in the early 1800s. The site also mentions that an oil the tree produces has insect repelling qualities. Virginia Tech Dendrology states the tree is planted as an ornamental in zones 7 and 8. It mentions it is often mistaken for European Larch and Atlas Cedar. The cultivar Karl Fuchs was developed in Germany in the 1970s.
Tree C143 can be found along Jackson Avenue, about midway between W. Olive and W. Magnolia Street. As can be seen from the photo above, it is a little way into the park and not directly along the street.
Next post: Alaskan and Incense Cedar
*So far I have not been able to pin down the meaning of “introduced” vs “native” as there appear to be trees that are planted in areas other than where they are native or have been introduced. (Possibly introduced means once the seeds have been planted, the trees are able to spread without the help of humans? This is also often referred to as an invasive species, but not all introduced species are problems as they do not take over or compete with native species. Other non-native trees are referred to as exotics and possibly they are single specimens which thrive but have no way to reproduce and spread? This is a hypothesis on my part and in no way verified.
The cones and needles may be the clues to telling firs from spruces.
Many years ago I went on a ranger talk in a national park and have always remembered the meme “Friendly fir, prickly pine.” A lot of good that does when it comes to spruce, although a landscape architect friend added “spikey” for spruce. After running my hands over the leaves of some of the firs, though, I don’t think that learning aid is completely accurate. Many firs and spruce look disconcertingly similar. The Norway spruce, Picae abies, even shares part of its name with the firs, whose genus is Abies. One way to tell a spruce from a fir is the direction in which the cones grow. Usually trees with cones pointing up are firs. The needles on firs are also flat compared to those of spruces. In the photo below, all the pieces, except the White Fir, lie flat on the background. In the case of the subalpine, the Nordmann, and the Fraser fir, the backside of the needles can be seen to be of a lighter color, too.
Subalpine fir (Abies lasciocarpa) ranges over the western half of the continent. It is also native to Larimer County (Flora of Colorado, Jennifer Ackerfield, 2015.) The tree itself is useful in watersheds and rehabilitating the land. Various parts of the tree were of use to Native Americans as shingles, bedding, and medicinally. This species normally does not produce cones until it is twenty or more years old. Most of the Colorado state champion subalpine fir are found in the San Juan National Forest. The oldest trees, including one found in Wyoming, are around 500 years old. The tallest measure over 172 feet.
The Corkbark (Abies lasiocarpa var. arizonica) is a variant of the subalpine fir found only in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. It does not produce cones until it is over fifty years of age. Trees can be found on Wolf Creek Pass and in the mountains of northern New Mexico, although the champion tree has been listed variously as in Arizona or near Ruidoso, NM. Its wood is the lightest of American trees and has little value as lumber.
Grand Firs are native to the Northwest. The layout of the needles on this conifer seem to be the flattest of the firs in the park and have an almost fernlike appearance. The trees take 200-250 years to mature and are grown for Christmas trees in this country and for lumber in Europe. Native Americans used the needles medicinally, as well as for a baby powder and a cure for baldness. The essential oils of firs have many uses including as a stimulate, deodorant, expectorant, and air freshener.
The Fraser Fir is found in limited areas of the American south. Due to its remoteness and small distribution, its primary use is in watershed management. It is also grown commercially for Christmas trees. Sources list various types of trees as the best/most popular for Christmas; the Fraser fir is usually toward the top of the list. Fir varieties have been used for the Capitol Christmas tree fifteen times.
Trunk of the Fraser fir
The Nordmann Fir (Abies nordmannia) is native to Asia Minor, where it is a popular Christmas tree.
The last of the six firs mapped in the park is the White Fir, (Abies concolor) although the tag could not be located. As can be seen on the mat with the needles above, this tree does not look that much like the other firs in the park. Its leaves are 2-3″ in length and it doesn’t lie as flat, although the individual needles are so flat they seem one dimensional!
The white fir is seen throughout most of the west and, according to the USDA map, is also native to Maine and Massachusetts. The US Forest Service distinguishes between a California white fir and a Rocky Mountain white fir. On conifers.org, another writer says white fir may be a catch-all name and that the species may have geographical variations. The Forest Service mentions the trees can live between three and four hundred years. It is of significant use for wildlife, is used for Christmas trees, some smaller construction projects, and for food containers as its wood has little odor.
Yosemite boasts the largest white firs of the California branch of the species. The tallest tree in the Rocky Mountain group can be seen in the Hermosa Creek area of the San Juan mountains, the same area of the tall Colorado Blue Spruce.
Leaves of the white fir
White fir trunk
Locating the Firs: All but one of the tagged firs are on the west side of the park, west of the ditch. It is probably most advantageous to park near the pool or in the ballpark lot. If you are walking, you could start at either end. The directions below are from the ballpark parking lot.
Nordmann Fir (Abies nordmannia) E41 This fir is located between the Fort Collins Housing Authority, 1715 W. Mountain, the building at the far N end of the ballpark parking lot, and the N baseball diamond. It is the only evergreen tree planted by itself in this spot.
Grand Fir (Abies grandis) E31 From the south section of the parking lot, walk between the the restrooms and the office building. The Grand fir is the evergreen just past the pedestrian bridge over the ditch that runs along S. Bryan. (If you are walking from the main body of the park, it is easy to cross the bridge over the ditch. The Grand Fir is then the first evergreen to your left.)
Fraser Fir (Abies fraseri) E29 Continue walking past the basketball court to the small clump of trees, three of which are conifers. The smaller tree planted by itself is the Fraser Fir. The tag is up quite high and may be difficult to read.
White Fir (Abies concolor) E28 Just beyond the Fraser Fir are two towering trees. The tree to the west does not look particularly healthy. The tree to the east should be the White Fir, but its tag is not to be found. (If you DO find it, please let me know in a comment.)
Both the white and Fraser fir can be accessed from City Park Drive by entering the park through either the entrance to Shelter #7, or an informal entrance between a break in the fence and the stonewall of the road bridge over the ditch.)
Subalpine Fir (Abies lasiocarpa) E19 The last fir in this area of the park can be located by walking W toward the Big Chair, which is an example of Art in Public Places. The subalpine fir is just south of this chair, the only evergreen in the area.
If you are viewing this specimen on a separate occasion, you could park in the golf course parking lot and walk back along the road to a break in the fence. The tree is then to the East.
Corkbark Fir (Abies lasiocarpa var. arizonica) C132. This tree is at the opposite end of the park, along Jackson Avenue. It is across the street from 220 or 222 Jackson Ave, near one of the workout stations.
The needles of the Oriental Spruce almost look fake.
There are three other identified spruce trees in City Park. The Black Hills Spruce adds to the name confusion as it is also known as the White Spruce, Western White Spruce, Alberta Spruce, etc. To further cloud matters, there is a tree called a Black Spruce, which is distinct from the Black Hills Spruce. And on top of that, some sources identify the Black Hills Spruce as Picea Glauca, the exact same taxonomic name as the White Spruce. On the City Park Self-Guided Tree Tour the tree is identified as Picea glauca var.densata. Apparently the Black Hills Spruce is more of a geographically distinct tree rather than a biologically distinct tree.
The Trees of North America website shows the range of this tree as being the northern part of the continent at a latitude that does not include Colorado but does include Wyoming. A Black Hills Spruce, the official tree of South Dakota, was the Capitol Christmas Tree in 1997. It is often used as a home Christmas tree.
One of the more unique spruces in the park is the Oriental Spruce (Picea orientalis), which is native to Asia Minor. This tree is said to grow to 50 to 60 feet and twice that height in its native environment. The specimen in City Park is more bush-sized. Although this is a slow growing tree, I suspect this little tree has not been in the park all that long.
The branches with their needles almost looks fake!
The Norway Spruce (Picea abies) is not native to the North American continent but is widespread in Europe. It has been “introduced” to the eastern part of North America. This tree is often grown in this country for Christmas trees, taking eight to eleven years to reach the ideal height of six to seven feet. One problem of using this in-house is that it tends to lose its needles rather quickly and must be freshly cut to be used for any length of time.
The lumber from this tree is probably of more importance in Europe than it is in this country, but due to many of its properties–spreading root system, hardy wood, a shape which keeps it from suffering much damage in ice and snow–it makes a good windbreak tree.
The branches can also be used for spruce beer, the lumber for sounding boards, pulp, and paper. The pitch can be made into varnish and has medicinal uses.
The Oriental Spruce E47
is in an entirely new area of the park. To find this tree, drive all the way down Oak Street into the ballpark parking area or enter from Mountain Avenue. As Mountain is separated by a median, you will need to be heading east to access the parking lot. The tree, looking more like a shrub, is in the strip between the parking lot and the New Mercer Canal, toward the more northern end of this land. It is the only evergreen in the area.
Both the Norway Spruce (B112) and the Black Hills Spruce (B111) are accessible from the diagonal parking on Oak Street between Jackson and McKinley. Both trees are across from 1320 West Oak, the large red brick house with the sloping roof. In both instances the tags are easy to find.
The first Colorado Blue Spruce was discovered on Pike’s Peak
Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea pungens or Picea pungens Engelm) was found on Pike’s Peak and later named by the father of the Engelmann spruce. In 1892 it was voted to be the state tree of Colorado, but this did not become official until the 1930s. There are possibly forty hybridizations of this tree, such as the Fat Albert (Picea pungens Fat Albert), the Baker Blue Spruce (Picea pungens Bakeri), and the Thomsen Blue Spruce (Picea pungens Thomsen). All three varieties can be found in City Park. The Thomsen Blue Spruce is listed as a state champion tree, although this can’t be verified on the list of 2017 State Champion Trees. The Fat Albert variety was developed in the 1970s, meaning the tree in City Park can only be around 50 years old.
Colorado Blue Spruce, which are seen throughout most of the Rocky Mountain states, may reach 600 years of age. According to conifers.org the tallest Colorado Blue Spruce grow in the San Juan Mountains near Pagosa Springs and these trees include both state and national champions. The Blue Spruce is another tree often used as a Christmas tree. They are grown in the east for this purpose. Most sources identify the native range of this tree to be the southern Rockies, but the USDA site adds some eastern states, such as New York. Another USDA site on the internet posits these trees are actually “escapees” and not native at all. A blue spruce has been the capitol Christmas tree three times. According to Wikipedia, the National Christmas tree has been a living blue spruce since 1973.
Like the White Spruce and the Engelmann Spruce, the Blue Spruce is known by other names, including white spruce, silver spruce and water spruce. Spruce seem easy to identify as Picea, but deciding on which species/variety each belongs to is as confusing as their various names. There are some differences between their leaves and cones but even these are difficult for the casual observer to determine.
There are two tagged Colorado Blue Spruce in the park, but I could only locate the tagged one on the NW corner of Mulberry and JacksonC163. The tagged tree belongs to a small group of conifers and is the spruce closest to Jackson Street, near an Eastern White Pine. You have to “walk into” the branches to find the identifying tag.
To find the Thomsen Blue Spruce (C166),
follow the sidewalk that runs along Mulberry Street. This tree is the first evergreen west of the signaled crosswalk, more or less across from 1413 West Mulberry. Cones can be seen near the top of the tree.
To find the Fat AlbertD213, keep walking west and cross Sheldon Drive tothe NW corner of Mulberry and Sheldon Drive. The tree is question is the spruce closer to the lake. The needles on the Fat Albert seem to be the stiffest and most prickly of the specimens collected and are very silvery-blue.
The last tagged Picea pungens cultivar in the park is at the SW corner of Sheldon Drive and City Park, the other end of Sheldon Lake. The Baker Blue Spruce(D194) is next to the tagged Engelmann Spruce.
It seems to me one of the most confusing aspects of spruce trees is their many alternate names. One of the names for the Engelmann Spruce is white spruce, as well as silver spruce and the generic-sounding mountain spruce. At a glance, the various species look very similar, too. The Engelmann Spruce (Picea engelmannii) is a native of North America. Listed in Flora of Colorado (Jennifer Ackerfield, 2015) it is native to Colorado as well as Larimer County! Unlike the White Spruce written about last week, internet sources concur this one is a native and show its range being the western part of the continent, south to the New Mexico/Texas border and north to the British Columbia/Yukon border. Possibly the confusion with the white spruce is due to the two trees hybridizing? The Gymnosperm Database mentions that the oldest Engelmann spruce is in Colorado and has attained at least 911 years of age.
The fine needles on the twigs and branches of the Engelmann spruce are much more evenly spaced than those of the white spruce, reminding me of a bottle brush. From a distance, this is hard to distinguish. When examined closely, the spruce cones also have subtle differences; the ends of the Engelmann spruce cones appear to be toothed. Comparing the tagged park specimens, the cones of the Engelmann are also somewhat larger than those of the White Spruce. The Engelmann spruce is the second most common tree used for the Capitol Christmas tree with nine appearances since 1970.
The New York Times Style Magazine of December 3, 2017 short article “Chasing Pine” discussed a number of edible uses of conifers, including the historical spruce beer. Modern chefs make pine ice cream, pine aioli, and custard. Others use a spruce oil in drinks, Some sprinkle a spruce-sugar concoction on cookies.
The Englemann Spruce listed on the tree guide (D193) is at the Southwest corner of City Park and Sheldon Drive. You can access this corner by turning onto Sheldon Drive from Mulberry and parking near the intersection with City Park Drive. That corner of the park is lined by deciduous trees on the eastern and northern edges. Numerous conifers form the south edge along the lakeshore. The marked tree sits in front of the larger spruces, between an Oakleaf Mountain Ash and a Baker Blue Spruce. It has a perfect conical Christmas tree shape.
Every year trees are brought to the nation’s capitol to adorn the Capitol lawn, outside the Whitehouse, and sometimes in the interior of the Whitehouse. The National Christmas Tree has been displayed, cut or planted, in the President’s Park as well as other spots. This tradition started in 1923. The most common tree used is a variety of spruce.
Although the U.S. Capitol Christmas Treetradition began before 1970, every year since then a different national forest has provided the tree. The White Spruce has been the tree of choice twelve times, the most of any single species. The tagged White Spruce (Picea glauca) in the City Park Arboretum near the intersection of City Park and Sheldon Drive is not only a native to Colorado, but a state champion tree. This tree probably does not call to mind a tree to decorate, though, as it is quite tall and somewhat spindly looking.
The USDA shows this species as having a very northern range, including Wyoming, but not Colorado. The Forest Service shows its range as even more restrictive. North American Trees (Preston and Braham, 2002) appears to agree with the USFS. The map on the Gymnosperm Database also shows the distribution as very northern, mostly Canada, but goes on to list a number of states where the tree is native, again Wyoming but not Colorado. North American Trees says these trees do not reach maturity until 250-300 years and the Gymnosperm Database says the oldest tree, growing in the Yukon, is over 668 years old.
White spruce lumber has been used for sounding boards in violins and other instruments, for pulp, general construction, and Christmas trees. The National Christmas Tree Association suggests their short needles make them ideal for hanging ornaments. I examined the branches of the tree I bought for my house this year, and I’m thinking it very well may be a white spruce.
The tree is significant for wild life and its roots were used by Native Americans to weave baskets and bind canoes. A British Columbian website includes making snowshoes and bows in its uses. Resin was turned into a gum to stick arrowheads to arrows. Like most of the other trees reported on thus far, this one, too, has medicinal properties, including antiseptic, respiratory, and wound care. It has also been investigated for its relation to diabetes!
This specimen (A94) can be located by studying the tall conifers at the Northeast corner of City Park and Sheldon Drive. There are ten trees on this corner, but only two of them are conifers. The more northern of the two is the tagged tree, although I suspect the second tree is also a white spruce.